Despite Tamworth’s Country Music Festival going full steam ahead next month, hundreds of hotel bookings have been cancelled. The 10-day event starting on January 14 has been confirmed to be still on despite COVID-19 outbreaks and interstate border travel rules.

Manager of events for Tamworth Regional Council, Barry Harley, said the festival would be as COVID-safe as possible.

The event is spread across multiple venues and each will have unique conditions.

Organisers held a meeting on Christmas Eve and Mr Harley said those present were committed to ensuring the event went ahead next month, with all aspects that can safely proceed under current public health orders.

“There will still be buskers in the street and activities and ticketed shows available,” he said.

“Very quickly we pulled together as many of the major and minor venues … to have a say on where they stood, what impact it would be, and where they thought the balance of the festival will go.

“To that end we came out with a commitment that the festival should continue with those ticketed shows in the venues, it should be as COVID-safe as we can make it, and we comply with health orders.”

While Mr Harley said he understood there were many people anxious about the spread of COVID, he also said the economy needed to be considered.

“It’s a very complicated and layered decision,” he said.

“It [festival] injects a massive amount of money into the economy that keeps a lot of businesses going.

“It’s always a conscious balance … we do appreciate that it is very fluid and expectations may vary in the coming days.”

Hotels see spate of cancellations

Evelyn Page runs a Best Western hotel on one of Tamworth’s main roads, and on a normal festival week would fill its 60 rooms.

This week, she had more than 30 cancellations overnight.

“It was a tour group of older people, so [they’re] very worried about COVID,” Ms Page said.

“We haven’t had the enquiries like we have had previously; it’s flattened out everywhere.

“We’re probably one of the closest hotels in walking distance to town; we’re one of the largest.”

Ms Page said hotel managers are looking at other alternatives to recover room bookings.

“We looked at trying to do a minimum-night stay, but are going to dissolve that and just take what we can get,” she said.

“I’m hoping for a fabulous festival, but I’m just uncertain.

“Everyone’s thinking, what’s actually going to happen in Tamworth if they come?”

Hopeful bookings will refill

David Dalley is the owner-manager of Big4 Paradise Park near Tamworth.

He said in the last week they have seen a shift with people ringing, concerned about COVID.

“What we’re trying to do is just reassure people that if we do everything right we will all be okay,” Mr Dalley said.

Interstate travellers, in particular Queenslanders, have also rung with concerns about being locked down in the state.

“If they get here, getting back into their state is the main worry,” Mr Dalley said.

“So far we’ve had around eight cancellations, mainly our cabins. But we do have some cancellations across other avenues.”Despite the cancellations, Mr Dalley remained positive about the festival and the benefits it would still bring to the town.

He was also hopeful he would refill his cancellations.

“I’ve got a good vibe about it, even though it’s certainly concerning. I still feel that we’ll have good numbers at this festival,” he said.

“It’s the 50th anniversary so we’re still excited about it.

“Just come and enjoy the festival. We all need it, all businesses need it.”